Legislative Update: October 15, 2015

To say that folks are angry and frustrated with politics right now would be an understatement. In fact, it seems that the entire country is fed up with politicians and the political establishment. You can see it in the rise of “outsider” candidates in the presidential primaries. From Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, majorities of Americans want a change from the status quo—and they don't care how outrageous the statements or positions of a particular candidate may be, as long as they will upend the established order.

Here in Illinois, we are no strangers to anger and frustration at the political process. I recently gave a talk to a bipartisan group at the Beacon Hill senior community in Lombard. We talked about the lack of an Illinois budget, about House Speaker Michael Madigan, and about Governor Bruce Rauner.

While folks were almost unanimous in their dislike of Speaker Madigan, there were divisions on Governor Rauner. To that end, I wanted to see what the folks at Beacon Hill thought of recent poll results I’d seen relating to the Governor. The poll stated that the Governor’s approval rating is around 45 percent of Illinoisans, and his disapproval rating is around 40 percent. (Normally, an incumbent with an approval rate below 50 percent is considered “in danger.”)

However, that poll also had tested another question—whether folks agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Bruce Rauner is trying to shake things up in Springfield, but the career politicians are standing in his way.” The poll results were 71 percent yes to just 21 percent no.

I asked the seniors at Beacon Hill whether they agreed with that statement or not. Nearly every head in the room nodded in approval. In fact, not a single person in that room full of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents disagreed.

To me, that result speaks louder than the standard approval/disapproval numbers that pundits watch. In this environment of anger and frustration, the public will support an authentic elected leader every time against a status quo politician.

We’ve seen examples locally, too, most recently with the housecleaning at College of DuPage, where the voters chose all new leaders for that school board, even though all of those candidates had little or no prior elected experience.

As we are now in the fourth month of our Illinois budget impasse and government “shutdown,” the lines are clearly drawn between reform and “the way it’s always been.” But, unlike previous years, the people of this State have had enough—they’re sick and tired of the same old, same old.

That’s why I tell folks that I’m more hopeful today about the future of this State than I’ve been in decades. We all know that our elected officials failed us, by not dealing with our structural financial issues of debt, pensions, health care, and the like, many years ago. But, the upside is that fight for the heart and soul of Illinois is raging, right here, right now.

Not only is that debate finally happening, but it’s happening under the bright spotlight of public scrutiny.

I am confident that, at the end of this battle over budget and reform, the people of Illinois will know exactly where their political leaders stand. My great hope is, at that point, the people of this State, through their sacred right to vote, will then act accordingly.

Comptroller Munger: Illinois Can’t Make its November Pension Payment
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger announced yesterday that her office is unable to make the state’s $560 million pension payment for November. Comparing the state to a household drowning in debt, Munger said the lack of a budget has created a situation where the state simply does not have enough money to make the mandatory payment. She reiterated, however, that retirees will still receive their benefit checks. “The monthly pension payment of $560 million is the largest consistent expenditure that we have through the year, and it is one of the few areas we have had some flexibility because it is not covered by a court order and the delay will not cause immediate hardship,” Munger said. “We will still send out retirement checks, but we will have to tap the corpus of the retirement funds to do so.”

According to Munger, as of this week the state has only $142 million on hand, and the debt total stands at $6.9 billion. She expects that number to grow to $8.5 billion by the end of the year.

Governor Rauner Announces Intention to Sell Thompson Center in Chicago
This week Governor Rauner announced that he wants to sell the James R. Thompson Center, home base for more than 2,200 state employees and 280 non-government workers. During his announcement on Tuesday, Rauner said the 1.2 million square-foot building could generate $20 million annually in new Chicago and CPS taxes. The building cost $172 million to build, and it was completed in 1985. The Governor said he would like to see the building on the auction block within the next year. “From a pure financial point of view, this is a compelling opportunity for the people of Illinois,” said Rauner during his press conference.

The dilapidated 17-story building is in a state of disrepair, and Rauner estimated that it will need more than $100 million in maintenance over the next few years.